Halliburton made money in the first quarter on rising revenue in the Middle East and Asia, and the CEO said Monday that he sensed an upturn in the North American market.
Earnings and revenue topped expectations and Halliburton reversed course after a loss a year ago, when results were hurt by charges related to the huge 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Halliburton Co. shares rose $2.02, or 3.3 percent, to close at $62.92 after hitting an all-time high of $63.88 earlier in the day. They have gained 24 percent so far in 2014.
The Houston company provides drilling services to oil and gas operators around the world, although it is more dependent on U.S. operations than rival Schlumberger Ltd. That has been a handicap lately, as a surplus of equipment used in hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" -- pumping chemicals and water underground to break open shale rock formations -- has driven down prices.
On a conference call with analysts, CEO David Lesar said that growing demand in the Permian basin around Texas is helping to cause that extra fracking capacity to tighten much faster than expected.
"I'm starting to feel the turn," Lesar said. "We don't think we'll have any problem filling our frac calendar through the end of the year."
Lesar said that profit margins in North America would rebound in the second quarter and help the company boost earnings per share by 25 percent. That would suggest results in line with analysts' forecasts for the April-through-June period.
Halliburton's strength in the first quarter was overseas, especially in the Eastern Hemisphere, where revenue grew 11 percent and operating income climbed 16 percent from a year ago.
Some of the strongest activity occurred in Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Chief Financial Officer Mark McCollum said that showed the company was able to export its expertise in "unconventional" drilling such as fracking beyond North America.
Revenue and operating income fell in Latin America mostly due to a decline in drilling activity in Brazil and Mexico, executives said. Full-year results in Latin America should be the same as 2013, they said.
Rob Desai, an analyst with Edward Jones, said Halliburton was making progress on goals such as boosting margins on international jobs, where it trails Schlumberger.
"They are trying to grow internationally, and that's led them to compete more on price," Desai said in an interview. "Schlumberger has been a little more picky and takes more high-profit projects."
Desai, who rates Halliburton a "Hold" and Schlumberger a "Buy," said Halliburton should narrow the margin gap as it exports fracking expertise.
Halliburton reported first-quarter net income of $622 million, or 73 cents per share. Revenue rose 5 percent to $7.35 billion from $6.97 billion a year ago.
Analysts polled by FactSet expected earnings of 72 cents per share on revenue of $7.26 billion.
A year ago, the company reported a loss of $18 million, or 2 cents per share, as it took a $637 million charge to cover the cost of lawsuits over the explosion on the Gulf of Mexico drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 men. Halliburton was hired to cement a BP PLC well.
Last week, Schlumberger reported a 26 percent jump in profit on growth in North America, the Middle East and Asia. Revenue, however, was slightly lower than expected.
Another competitor, Baker Hughes Inc., said last week that first-quarter income rose 23 percent and beat analysts' forecasts as revenue increased everywhere except Latin America. Growth in the Middle East and Asia Pacific was stronger than in North America.